Two Events in Roman Law

This Blog is pleased to note that, under the auspices of the Centre for Legal History, Edinburgh, and the Institute for Legal and Constitutional Research, St Andrews,  Professor Bruce Frier of the University of Michigan will be  speaking at the University of St Andrews on 10 May 2019, addressing the title. “What Held Roman Law Together?”  On 13 May, 2019, he will give a (closed) graduate seminar in Edinburgh on “Common Things: The Mysterious Sea Shore”. For details see and

Conference on Leibnitz

Our blogger has recently been made aware of the publication of a new translation of Leibnitz’s famous treatise on the teaching of law. Details about the conference here.

A short blurb by the author of the translation below:

About the Leibniz’s The New Method of Learning and Teaching Jurisprudence

“This book, small in relation to its size, but considerable if we look at the aim which Mr. Leibniz pursues, became an extraordinary rarity. I would have done certainly useless movements to find it in bookshops, or at friends, if the case would not have dropped it in my hands in an unforeseen way” .[ M. L. de Neufville (1734), Histoire de la Vie et des Ouvrages de Mr. Leibnitz. Amsterdam chez François Changuion, 25,my transl.].
Indeed, after the first issue in Frankfurt 1667, published only with the initials of the Author , the Nova Methodus will be reprinted only in 1748 with a short preface by Christian Wolf (or Wolff, 1679–1754) . This edition will be reused twenty years later by Luis Dutens in the first critical publication of Leibniz’s works.
At the end of the XVII century, Leibniz added in late revision the so called note “D” , now printed in footnote to the critical edition of Nova Methodus by Paul Ritter [1872–1954], Willy Kabitz [1876–1942], Heinrich Schepers (eds.) of the German Academy of Science.
As for translations of Nova Methodus in modern languages , to my knowledge the only one complete is mine in Italian and here in English. I tried to give the most comprehensive framework of the juridical thought of Leibniz not only in philosophical sense, but also in juridical technical sense, which is the most important in this booklet, because the same is specifically devoted to the Right.
The other translations in modern languages contain only selected passages, pursuing different aims, so that a judgment about cannot be expressed, except that in some cases they inaccurately translate juridical terms, for they are made by philosophers not by jurists, and this is an unacceptable limit for a juridical book.

Peter Birks and the Roman Law of Obligations

When this blogger returned to the then Faculty of Law of the University of Edinburgh as a young lecturer, Peter Birks held the Chair of Civil Law. A man of fearsome energy, Birks founded the Edinburgh Roman Law Group, as well as being behind the then Legal History Discussion Group (now the Alan Watson Seminar) and the Roman Law Club (now the Henry Goudy Seminar). He was also the senior colleague whom this blogger found most most supportive and encouraging.
In Edinburgh Peter’s duties were to deliver (along with other colleagues) the lectures on Civil (i.e. Roman) Law ordinary (three lectures per week through the three terms), classes on comparative law, and the twenty, two-hour honours seminars in Civil Law. Peter was a charismatic man to whom some students became completely devoted; others found his standards too high, and his lectures were certainly not for duffers or the idle.
Our colleague Eric Descheemaker, who was Peter’s doctoral student at Oxford, has just edited for publication Peter’s lectures in Edinburgh on the Roman Law of Obligations (Peter Birks, The Roman Law of Obligations (Oxford: University Press, 2014). This is the first fruit of a project to publish collected works by Peter, including unpublished works. Your blogger had a copy of part of these in his possession and drew them to the attention of Eric some time ago. The whole was discovered by Eric in Peter’s papers. My recollection was that Peter prepared these for the assistance of the students, and he made the text available to students through the law library. Indeed, our first-year Civil Law course is still essentially the same in structure, and we even still share in our Course Guide some of the questions here included at the end.
It is both pleasurable and sad to read these. Reading some of them, I can actually hear Peter’s voice, they are so much his. One gets a real sense of him and his enthusiasms from this book. He was fascinated by taxonomy, as even those who only know him from his work on unjust enrichment will also be aware. Eric is to be congratulated on publishing these. I shall certainly be recommending them to our first-year students, so once more they can have the benefit of Peter’s fierce intellect.

303 Years of Civil Law

303 Years of Civil Law in Edinburgh: A Celebration

To mark the filling of the chair of Civil Law (founded 1710) in December 2012, after a vacancy of quarter of a century, the Edinburgh Centre for Legal History, generously supported by the School of Law, devoted a “long” academic year in 2013-2014 to a celebration of Roman Law and legal history, on the theme of “303 years of Civil Law”.
On 23 March, 2013, Dr Gérard Minaud, Fellow of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study and Associated Researcher in the Centre Camille Jullian (CNRS, Aix-Marseille University), presented a paper to the Roman Law Group entitled “The Legal Status of Tradespeople in Ancient Rome”. This topic linked with the theme of commerce in Roman law, a field of research interest in the Centre.

One of the major events was, over 7-8 June 2013, a specialist conference by invitation entitled: “Ad fontes: Reassessing Legal Humanism and its Claims”. Speakers were Dr Douglas Osler, Professor Eva Jakab, Professor Bernard Stolte, Professor Ian Maclean, Dr Karen Baston, Professor Alain Wijffels, Professor David Ibbetson, Dr Guido Rossi, Dr Wim Decock, Dr Martine van Ittersum and Professor Susan L. Karr. With an introduction by Professor John W. Cairns and Dr Paul J. du Plessis, and additional chapters by Dr Xavier Prévost and Ms Jasmin Hepburn, the papers will be published by Edinburgh UniversityPress in its series, Edinburgh Studies in Law.AF1 AF8

This conference and the associated volume continue the Centre’s project of examining contested topics in European legal history that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and grand narrative that have their roots in the nineteenth century.

On 22 November, 2013, Professor John W. Cairns delivered his inaugural lecture as recently appointed holder of the Chair of Civil Law.IMG_1329

It was entitled “An Uncommon Law?”. In it he explored the background to the foundation of the chair, its intellectual heritage, and its scope. The lecture may be viewed here:

In the course of the year, the Edinburgh Legal History Discussion Group was renamed the Alan Watson Seminar in honour of one of the most distinguished holders of the Chair of Civil Law.


It will now operate in a way comparable to the Roman Law Group, under the organization of Dr Guido Rossi. The first paper was given by Dr Xavier Prévost of (Sorbonne Law School (Université Paris I – Ecole nationale des chartes, Paris) “The Use of the Glossators and Commentators by Jacques Cujas (1522-1590): A Humanist Criticism of the Medieval Jurisprudence”. This paper will be the basis of Dr Prévost’s chapter in Ad fontes. Later this year he takes up the post of Professor of Legal History in Bordeaux.

The Edinburgh Roman law Group has held two events during the course of the academic year 2013/14. The first of these, a paper by Dr Philipp Scheibelreiter from the University of Vienna, was on the early history of the contract of commodatum. Dr Scheibelreiter, who specialises in the interface between Greek and Roman law, recently won one of the main prizes in the context of the 2013/14 Premio Boulvert, the main prize for first monographs in the field of Roman law in Europe, for his monograph on the obligational nature of the Delian-Attic sea league. The second meeting of the group took the form of a one-day workshop on “Accounting Principles and Accounting Practices in Roman law”. This workshop, organized in collaboration with Professor Dr Eva Jakab from the University of Szeged, came about through an existing collaboration between Professor Jakab and D. du Plessis in the context of the Legal Documents in Ancient Societies Network of which they are both members. It was felt that the current state of research on Roman “commercial law” and on “law and economics” in the Roman world did not adequately address the extent to which Roman law was supported by certain techniques arising from the world of Roman accounting. To that end, this seminar, the first of two, was organized to lay the foundation for further discussions surrounding accounting practices in Roman law and the extent to which such practices should be taken into account when investigating Roman law. Scholars from Leiden, London, Nantes and Trier were invited to present papers on specific topics. The second meeting will be held in a year’s time in Budapest. Discussions with Professor Wolfgang Ernst from the University of Zurich have also taken place concerning the relationship between this project and his project on the ascent of money in the medieval world. It has been suggest that the Roman accounting project should be broadened to deal more generally with the legal aspects of money in the Roman world.

Further marking the filling of the chair, the School’s prestigious MacCormick Lectures were delivered by Professor Wolfgang Ernst of Zurich on a theme of legal history. Founded to honour the memory of our late colleague, Sir Neil MacCormick, this was only the second set of lectures ever given.



Given the events of 2014 in Scotland, Professor Ernst chose to deliver a set of lectures on the topic of “‘The Ayes have it’: The Legal History of Public Choice”. A brilliant historical exploration of voting and its issues from Roman to modern times, it is hoped the lectures will form a short book opening up a new area of research.

Dr Paul du Plessis organized a major international conference in the context of the work on the Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society. This volume, of which he is the editor-in-chief together with Professor Clifford Ando from Chicago and Dr. Kaius Tuori from Helsinki, is designed to be a major reference work for the study of “law and society in the Roman world” in years to come. It is a major work of scholarship comprising nearly 50 chapters and over 1300 pages [400,000 words]. The conference, organized in Edinburgh, brought together most of the chapter authors to discuss their draft chapters and to collaborate regarding coverage and areas of overlap. The papers were extensively commented upon and the editors continue to work with the chapter authors until the final deadline for the submission of papers in September 2014. The Oxford Handbook is due for publication in the latter part of 2015.

Together with Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins from Asian Studies, Dr Paul du Plessis organised an international workshop on the reception of law in Japan. The workshop was designed to be an exploration of Alan Watson’s idea of ‘Legal Transplants’ with specific reference to Japan and its colonial experiences in East Asia. It brought together scholars from Germany, Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, with papers from Professor John W. Cairns, Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins, Professor Marie Seong-Hak Kim, Professor Matthias Zachmann, and Dr Daniel Hedinger. It was designed to act as a pump-primer for further discussion in the field.

Dr Paul du Plessis introduced the Henry Goudy Seminar in Roman law. This seminar, open to students and staff from across the university, functions as a reading group which meets once a month to discuss a work from Classical Antiquity that has been read (in translation). The main thrust of the discussion revolves around the extent to which the work in question casts light on Roman law. During 2013/14, the group read works by Livy, Plutarch and Plautus, all focusing on the early period of Roman law. Henry Goudy was a former holder of the Chair.

303 Years of Civil Law

“The Ayes Have it”: The Legal History of Public Choice – The MacCormick Lectures 2014, by Wolfgang Ernst, Zurich

The MacCormick Lectures were established in memory of our late colleague Sir Neil MacCormick, with the first series given by Professor Joseph Weiler in 2011. The second set is being given this year, focused on legal history to mark the filling in 2012 of the Chair of Civil Law, vacant since the resignation of the late Professor Peter Birks in December 1987. The MacCormick Lecturer of 2014 is Professor Wolfgang Ernst of the University of Zurich.

Professor Ernst has chosen to devote his lectures to the legal history of voting, which is both fascinating and complex. Thus, whenever members of an association, shareholders of a corporation, or councillors convene, they follow procedures which culminate in the casting of votes. Voting procedures, which have attracted the interest of game theorists, have to be followed because (and as far as) they are law. Lying behind them, however, there is a distinct legal history. In these lectures, Professor Ernst will address issues such as: What constitutes a majority? When is unanimity necessary? Is there a right to abstain? How is a tied vote overcome? How are amendments and bundles of motions dealt with? Do judges vote? He will explore these issues from a legal historian’s perspective, drawing on material from the Roman Senate, the Roman municipal curia, Church Councils, modern Parliaments and collegiate courts.

This is of course a controversial and current topic in Scotland, since this is the year in which there is to be a referendum in Scotland on “Independence”, for which the Scottish Government has chosen specially to change the franchise by extending the vote to all those of 16 years or over, relying on a residency test. Thus, if you are 16 or over on 18 September, are registered to vote by 2 September, and are a British citizen living in Scotland, or a European Union citizen living in Scotland, or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen living in Scotland, you can vote to break up the United Kingdom. Arrangements are also made for members of the Armed forces outside Scotland but who are registered to vote in Scotland. (“Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are people who have leave (permission) to enter or remain in the UK, do not need to have such leave or are treated as having such leave.”)  For further information, see from which the above description of the test for qualification to vote have been drawn.

After studies at Frankfurt am Main and Bonn, Professor Ernst took his doctorate at the latter University in 1981. In 1982, he gained the degree of LLM from Yale. After taking his State Exams, Professor Ernst was an assistant at the University of Bonn from 1986-1990, acquiring his Habilitation in 1989. From 1990 to 2000, he was Professor Ordinarius für Römisches und Bürgerliches Recht at the University of Tubingen, also serving there as Dean and Associate Dean. From 2000-2004, he was Professor ordinarius für Zivilrecht and Director of the Institute for Roman Law, Bonn. Since 2004, he has been Professor Ordinarius für Römisches Recht und Privatrecht at the University of Zürich. In 2002-3, he was Arthur Goodhart Professor in Legal Science, Cambridge University, and Fellow of Magdalene College. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Herbert Smith Visitor at Cambridge University. His publications are many and varied, ranging over Roman law, legal history, property, and obligations.

This promises to be an important and exciting set of lectures.

Event poster MacCormick Lectures303 Years of Civil Law



Alan Watson Seminar

Since the mid-1980s there has been a Legal History Discussion Group in the University of Edinburgh. Originally founded by Professor Peter Birks, it was very many years organised by Professor Hector MacQueen and then later by your blogger. It initially took the form of an hors d’oeuvre and then a main paper, and was accompanied by wine. A minute book preserved in Edinburgh University Archives records meetings from the foundation until around 2000, and makes very interesting reading, indicating how much important research started off in discussion before it.

Recently, the format changed into that of a single paper, resembling that of the School’s Roman Law Group, but instead focusing on legal history from the Middle Ages onwards. The Centre for Legal History is proud to announce that the Legal History Discussion group will now be known as the Alan Watson Seminar after Professor Alan Watson, who held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh from 1968 to 1980. Professor Watson has very kindly agreed to this. The first paper to be given under this new title will be on 2 May 2014 by Dr Xavier Prévost (Université Paris I – Ecole nationale des chartes, Paris), who will speak on ‘The Use of the Glossators and Commentators by Jacques Cujas (1522-1590): A Humanist Criticism of the Medieval Jurisprudence’. A subsequent Blog Entry will discuss Professor Watson and his time at Edinburgh.



Chiene Memorial Lecture: Professor Thomas Duve, 11 October 2013

Peter Chiene was an Edinburgh graduate in law and philosophy who practised as a solicitor in Edinburgh. He died tragically young in an accident on the Scottish hills. This lectureship in legal history was founded in his memory.

The Peter Chiene Lecture of 2013 will be delivered on 11 October by Professor Dr Thomas Duve, Director of the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt-am-Main, in Lecture Theatre 175, Old College, Edinburgh at 17.30.

His title is: “National, Transnational and European Legal Histories: Problems and Paradigms. A German Perspective.” The Lecture will be followed by a Reception in the Lorimer Room at 18.30. All are welcome.


cropped-Blog-Masthead.jpg303 Years of Civil Law



William Forbes: Lectures on Civil Law – A Tercentenary Triumph!


Just as 2013 marks 303 years since the creation of the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, so it marks 300 years since the founding of the Regius Chair of Civil Law in Glasgow, created probably in emulation of that in Edinburgh, though the Glasgow chair was not filled until 1714.

Many years ago, when your blogger was working on the history of legal education in Glasgow, he searched for notes by William Forbes, the first Professor, on Civil (i.e. Roman Law). These had been mentioned in a secondary source, but your blogger, even with the excellent professional help of the Special Collections staff in Glasgow University Library, failed to locate them. This is why it gives him great pleasure to report that his good friend Professor Ernest Metzger, Douglas Professor of Civil Law in Glasgow, together with Robert Maclean of the Glasgow University Library, has identified these notes.

There is an excellent Blog entry at

There is no need here to duplicate the content there. But this is a splendid discovery.

303 Years of Civil Law

Ad fontes: Reassessing Legal Humanism, 7-8 June, 2013

Antonio_Agustín[1]Antonii Jacques_Cujas[2]

As part of the celebration of 303 years of continuous teaching of Civil Law (ius civile) in the University of Edinburgh, the Centre for Legal History, over 7-8 June 2013, hosted an expert symposium on Legal Humanism, addressing the topic from a variety of perspectives. The symposium challenged and debated the common conceptualization of legal humanism. The symposiasts were invited speakers and invited guests, a mix aimed at ensuring a clear focus on the issue. There were distinguished senior scholars, but also research students from several universities working on relevant topics.

A traditional view of European legal history will often start – after discussion of the early medieval codes – with the rediscovery and teaching of the Corpus iuris civilis in medieval Italy. It then sets out this history as a progression of schools of jurists, working through Glossators, Commentators, Humanists, Natural Lawyers and Codifiers, with the enactment of the BGB almost a steh end of history. It is also traditionally linked to a geographical progression – almost a tranlatio studii – from Italy, to France, to the Netherlands, to Germany. This is not a convincing narrative as scholars have increasingly realized over the past three decades. What of the influence of Pothier? What of the French Code? What of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian scholarship? What of England?


Legal Humanism presents particularly difficult issues of understanding Lesaffer’s recent subtle study of European Legal History brings home the problems and contingencies of the traditional narrative when he has to use the term ‘Moderate Humanism’ to deal with the historical realities with which he is faced. The participants examined a whole varieties of aspects of what is usually considered under the rubric “Legal Humanism”, covering the “philological” work on the Digest, humanist jurists and political thought, humanists and the legacy of Byzantium, humanists and formulae, libraries, humanism and English law, and the humanist legacy as understood in the eighteenth century, and the extent to which legal humanism was and is a meaningful classification other than for a small group of specialist writers. In this respect, the traditional distinctions between the mos Gallicus and mos Italicus were considered, as well as the significance in this context of the usus modernus. Sources, pedagogy, the working methods of scholars, and the book-collecting habits of lawyers were all considered and debated.


Details of the speakers and their papers may be accessed by the link below:

303 Years of Civil Law

James Craig, Professor of Civil Law, 1710-1732

On 18 October 1710, James Craig was appointed as Professor of Civil Law in the University of Edinburgh. He advertised classes as Professor in the Common Hall of the College in November of that year. Although Charles Areskine had been appointed Regius Professor of Public law and the Law of Nature and Nations in 1707, he did not offer classes until 1711.  Craig was therefore the first active law teacher in the University of Edinburgh. A five-year privilege granted to Alexander Cunningham in 1699, and renewed in 1704, had prevented the appointment of a university Professor of Civil Law before this.

From a family with a history of distinction in the legal profession, he is almost certainly the James Craig who matriculated in Edinburgh under the regent Herbert Kennedy in 1691 and graduated in 1694. Following in the footsteps of his brother Robert, he then studied law in Franeker, matriculating there as a law student in 1695. Robert had also studied law in Utrecht, and there is some evidence to suggest that James did so too. But neither brother matriculated in the second Dutch university. At Franeker, before Zacharias Huber, James had publicly defended theses De matrimonio feminarum provincialium illicito cum praefectis militum in 1697, putting forward a “true interpretation” of D. 23.2.63. James had not written the Disputatio Juridica, he was merely the respondens, though he does appear to have composed the corollaria for debate. James was admitted as an advocate of the Scots bar on 9 July, 1701. The month before he had publicly defended theses De inofficioso testamento that he had prepared himself.

James had started to teach Civil Law privately in Edinburgh earlier in 1710, one of many advocates who sought to do so at this time. Indeed, there had been private teaching of Civil law in Edinburgh from 1699. Each year James taught two courses on the Institutes and one on the Digest, perhaps using Voet’s Compendium juris for the last. Like the classes of most early-eighteenth-century Scots law teachers, these were modelled on the collegia privata of Dutch professors; though the Town Council had initially allocated space in the College buildings for him to lecture, and he seems initially to have taught in his first year in the “Common Hall” of the College, he thereafter always taught his law classes in his home.  At one time he proposed that, on Saturdays, there should be public disputes by the students, followed the next Saturday by his solution of these quaestiones disputatae.

James was initially appointed without a salary; his remuneration was to be entirely from the fees paid to him by his students.  On 25 January 1715, by sign manual, King George I appointed James Craig as Regius Professor of Civil and Canon Law in the University of Edinburgh, with tenure for life. The sign manual referred to the previous expensive necessity of sending sons abroad to study the civil and canon laws, but noted that, for a number of years past, Craig had been publicly “professing and teaching” them in Edinburgh “for the service of his Country”. It concluded that he and his successors therefore deserved the encouragement of a royal appointment. It is not clear that Craig ever gained admission from the University as Regius Professor. In 1717, he acquired a salary of £100, allocated from the Edinburgh Beer Duties Act. In 1722, the Beer Duties Act made this salary permanent, and provided that appointments were to be made by the Town Council on receipt of two names of  qualified individuals from the Faculty of Advocates, thereby superseding the possibility of further  royal appointment. As far as we can tell, he taught regularly each year until his death in 1732.

Craig was trained in law in the Netherlands at a highpoint of late Dutch legal humanism.  Other than his defence of the Disputatio juridica in Franeker, we have little evidence of his education. Zacharias Huber, like his more famous father, Ulric, was not indifferent to the importance of classical studies for law. We do not have the materials to judge exactly how “Humanistic” was Craig’s approach to Civil Law, even in if this would be a meaningful exercise; but we can be confident of the influence on him of his Dutch education. His use of a Dutch textbook and his copying the style of teaching found in the Netherlands both testify to that. His immediate successors in the Edinburgh chair all followed this approach, teaching classes on the Institutes and classes on the Digest from Dutch compendia, until those of Heineccius acquired a virtual monopoly.

Though there have been some gaps in the occupancy of the chair, most significantly from 1987 until 2012, Civil Law has been continuously taught in the University of Edinburgh as a core subject of study for law students since 1710. This entry is the first of an irregular series about some of the holders of the chair as we mark these 303 years of Civil Law in the University of Edinburgh. They will not be delivered in order of occupancy of the chair, but accoriding to the whim of the blogger.